Oct 242013

In the October 19th Daily POST Mayor Scharff is quoted as saying that “Planned Community zoning has the advantage of requiring the developer to give something to benefit the community.”

The mayor has unusual standards as to what constitutes a “benefit.”

In May 2012, Scharff was one of 7 council members who voted in favor of the Lytton Gateway project, calling the building itself a benefit: “I think this is a prime site and having an office building – a Gateway project – is itself a public benefit.”

Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd agreed, saying the building itself was a contributor to the public-benefit package.

Back in the 1990s, council member Micki Schneider said that PC zoning allowed developers to benefit at the city’s expense. Another council member at the time, Ron Andersen, said it was “zoning for sale.”

More recently, Councilwoman Liz Kniss said developers gained too much at the public’s expense and PC zoning was one of the biggest issues raised during her council campaign.

In March of this year Planning Commisioners Martinez, Michael and Alcheck called for major changes to planned-community zoning, calling the existing process “the greatest challenge to land-use planning in Palo Alto today.”

With all the talk, it took the Maybell community to finally stand up and say, “No more rezoning!”

Vote AGAINST Measure D.

Oct 162013

and I urge you to do the same, and participate in this very impressive and significant grassroots effort in support of Barron Park and Green Acres’ residents, who, with limited funds, but great energy, talent, and numbers are working to preserve neighborhood character on the Maybell Avenue site and prevent a very bad traffic situation from getting worse and in turn help all of us.

And I ask you to read part or all of the following assessment I have written to become better informed about the referendum related to Maybell Avenue site, and the larger issues, we in other neighborhoods share and to send a community message to the city council about:

  • Up-zoning, planned communities, and flipping
  • Traffic studies that always conclude “no significant impact”
  • Land use speculation,
  • Conflicted loyalties
  • and more

Sections of This Article

  1. City as Speculator, Council as Conflicted
  2. Upzone then Flip
  3. Maybell Ave. – PC vs. Current Zoning
  4. Traffic and the City Consultants
  5. Residents to the Rescue
  6. Expert Peer Review Ignored
  7. Maybell Mythologies
  8. The Birth of New Leaders and Engaged Residents
  9. The Way Forward
  10. Palo Alto Does Care

Fred Balin, is a 22-year resident of College Terrace

Oct 132013

My 11-year-old son rides up Maybell “safe route to school” every day, and knows about dodging cars in the crowded traffic scene around the site of the Measure D high density rezoning. He is also aware of the plans to build three-story homes on 3,000 square ft. lots, and know many of the Baron Park families that have great concerns about dense urbanization being dropped into a neighborhood that has a proud rural heritage. We don’t live in the Barron Park / Green Acres neighborhood.

We were driving past a PAHC housing project and saw the Yes on Measure D from the Proponents of neighborhood rezoning, when he asked with contemplative innocence: “Dad, why do people who live far away from the orchard get to vote on Measure D?”

My immediate response was about living in a democracy and giving everyone a say about important decisions. Then the truth of that innocent question sunk in — a simple truth that I had felt, but had not found the words to express.

It goes like this: Neighborhoods are like members of a family — brothers and sisters that need to stick up for each other. The Maybell neighbors have properly expressed great alarm at the density that is being imposed on the neighborhood. Zoning protections that are in place are being stripped away by big money proponents of rezoning.

The proponents of High Density Rezoning are relying on apathy in other areas that offers the tempting thought that violating rules and eroding the character of a neighborhood with San Jose style stack and pack market rate housing is OK as long as it is Not In My Back Yard.

My son’s observation caused me to go to the computer and write this appeal to those that may not have had time to wade though the details.  I propose that we should follow the Golden Rule and Do onto others as we would have them do onto us. Just the fact that more than 4,000 residents signed the petition to bring the council’s actions to a referendum is evidence enough that something is rotten in Denmark. Private market rate development is riding though on the the trojan horse of a good cause.  The neighborhoods, as brothers and sisters of the great family of Palo Alto need to step up and offer unconditional support to a “family member” that is in deep distress about a rezoning bully that is dictating an erosion of the neighborhood.

A neighborhood is being bullied by the Deep-Pocket proponents of high density rezoning. We have to stick together and respond to the call for help. Like a family, it is important to be supportive, as next time it will be your turn to be supported — the deep-pocket proponents of high density rezoning have just started on this upzone for profit model, and it will take a unified city to retain our quality of life.

If you have time to look into the issues, please do look at VoteAgainstD.com. We have a family member crying out for help — Vote against Measure D. We cannot accept anything less.

Tim Gray

I am supporting my neighbors by serving as Treasurer for Palo Altans to Preserve Neighborhood Zoning

(Reposted from Tim Gray’s blog on PaloAltoPatch)

Oct 032013

Measure D is about both a housing project and Palo Alto’s land-use practices.

First, land use.  Palo Alto’s City’s zoning and development process has come to rely heavily on “Planned Community” and other rezoning mechanisms. Each over-code project does indeed have something of value in it, whether it’s below-market-rate housing, half of a police building, or even just a sculpture.  Proponents pitch the “gift” in isolation; if you’re a stage company, wouldn’t you like a new theater?  But any project’s value must be understood in light of its costs, and the system can only be measured by its projects.  In Palo Alto the system fails to measure up, and is in dire need of reform.

The way Palo Alto’s system works today is that the City has many things it would like to do – affordable housing, residential broadband, infrastructure repairs, parking garages, city management pay and benefit raises, and others – and never enough revenue to fund them all at once. But the Staff and Council have another way of raising money:  they can essentially sell off pieces of the city.

The exact mechanism is a developer buys land zoned for one density, and then the city basically sells the developer a higher-density rezoning.  The sale price is the return “gift.” The crucial problem is not the value of the “gift,” but the cost of the rezoning, and who bears it.  Invariably the cost is the cost of density: neighborhood quality of life, traffic, congestion, parking, pollution, safety, and the impact on city infrastructure, including collateral impacts such as school crowding.  These costs are real, borne by the residents, and hard to quantify.  The City Staff and Council would not say they consider these costs to be zero, but in action that’s how they value them, and therefore every project is a winner.  To the Staff, Council and development community, the system is a free-money game.  It’s going to the ATM with somebody else’s card.

It’s taken awhile, but residents in Barron Park and all across the rest of Palo Alto have figured out this game, and are justifiably furious. (Actually a few have known it all along, but have been ignored.)

Second, Maybell.  What’s happened specifically with Maybell is that the Palo Alto Housing Corporation, nominally a nonprofit, has figured out this game too, and wants in on it.  The sale price of the rezoning in this case is the difference between the 41 senior units allowed under existing zoning and the 60 they’ve negotiated with the developer, plus construction expenses.  The cost is the – 50% larger – piece of land rezoned to allow multimillion-dollar for-profit houses, and the associated burden to Barron Park residents. The argument in favor of Measure D relies fundamentally on three assumptions, all bad.

The first assumption involves the dismissal of the cost to residents.  The fact is that under Measure D, the parcel of land involved will go from 4 residences to 72.  The proponents try, but in truth no one can credibly argue there will not be negative consequences in terms of traffic, congestion, and public safety.

The second assumption is that no senior housing at all could be financed without the developer deal.  This argument enwraps an ugly idea.  What it really means is that the City and PAHC are unwilling to pay for the project with their own ATM card, but happy to pay for it with residents’ ATM card. In other words, the city government would force local residents to pay for something it considers not valuable enough to buy on its own.  This is simply vile.  How can the City be surprised that so many residents view it as untrustworthy?

The third assumption is really the apologist’s view:  that while City zoning abuse is indeed rampant, this particular project deserves to proceed; while some other project should be the one to trigger reform. This is wrong on both counts.   The value of the difference in units is not enough to justify the cost to residents and the giveaway of the larger parcel.  Nor is it enough to justify continuing to feed the bad system that exists; after all, every project will have some argument or other why it’s not the right one either.  It is certainly not enough to justify both of these things at once.  This argument is kind of like the alcoholic who argues he’ll quit, just after another drink.

There are other reasons to dislike Measure D:  the questionable ethics of the City’s multimillion-dollar investment in it before its approval, or the fact that PAHC’s subsidized-housing waitlist draws from all of Santa Clara County and not just from Palo Alto (why not from Los Angeles, too?  Why not Milwaukee?). No doubt there are people for whom any amount of senior housing can justify any amount of cost.  But for most reasonable voters, the costs of this rezoning outweigh its benefits, both in terms of the project itself and of the execrable system that produced it.

Vote AGAINST Measure D.

Jul 142013

We all assume that low income senior housing in this location is a great idea. I have all along said that I have no objections to a non-rezoned use of the land by PAHC. Recently I received more data from a PAHC board member that answered a long lasting question of mine.

Candace Gonzales had said during the very first meeting that many home owners in Barron Park will qualify to rent in the Maybell facility. I thought that she had made a gross error. I was told by a PAHC Board member that the affordable housing program (regulations are set by the federal government)  does not count assets, only income, as a qualifier. Continue reading »